Magazine article MultiMedia Schools

"Baste-and-Stich" Multimedia Instruction

Magazine article MultiMedia Schools

"Baste-and-Stich" Multimedia Instruction

Article excerpt

As a university instructor teaching multimedia applications to teachers, I've found myself faced with the task of teaching software applications in a way that SticKs.

Perhaps you've had the same experience. You attend a training session on a favorite multimedia software package. The instructor spends most of the time taking you through each of the functions of the software sequentially. First s/he demonstrates how to perform a task, then you do the same. Then, if there is time, you are given a brief amount of time to practice or apply the skills you've learned. (Most of us don't stay around for this last part, however. We're conditioned to think that this would be a waste of time.) After we've "learned" the software, we think we're ready to move on.

So, we return to our business as usual. Oh, we may use a few of the very elementary of skills learned in the workshop, but most of the what we've gained atrophies over time. Months later we realize that we need another training to resurrect what we supposedly learned before in the training session. Seem familiar? Frustrating, eh?

In one of my workplaces, the trainers at the agency tried to address this attrition problem when training support staff on application software. They conducted several training sessions in 3- to 4-week intervals. In the first session, they'd introduce the staff to the most basic functions of the software, then provide them with support back at their desks while they worked with the basics awhile. A few weeks later, they'd cover more advanced funcdons, then again have the staff work with the skills, adding their support or even brief meetings to check their progress. From time to time, they'd hold mini-lessons or form user groups to demonstrate advanced applications and practice the more complex functions. This form of training was more effective by all reports.

As a university instructor teaching multimedia applications to teachers, I've found myself faced with the task of teaching software applications in a way that sticks. I've elaborated on the methodology used by the agency trainers. It applies their interval training approach to a semester-long course. I call the process that has evolved the "baste-and-stitch" method of software instruction.

The Baste-and-Stitch Method Many young people learn basic sewing techniques from family members or from a beginning course in home crafts. The "baste" stitch is used to lightly tack something in place. It loosely gathers or holds the material temporarily so that the crafter can later go back and permanently stitch it. I've observed a similar process at work in the learner when independently tackling computer software skills. At first, the learner loosely gathers information and basic skills, then works only with those skills for a period of time, "stitching" them into place with practice. As the basics become second nature, the learner begins to explore other functions, a few at a time, integrating them for a period before striking out again into new territory. This natural process of venturing ahead (basting) and then refining/applying (stitching) occurs many times as the learner moves to higher levels of sophistication.

I've discovered that the traditional teacher demonstration is especially valuable during the "basting" process, when learners are seeking new information. Then, the facilitator or lab assistant service is most valuable for the stitching process. In fact, I've found that the sooner the instructor can move from the presentation stage to the facilitation position, the more independently a student learns. Since our goal is not just to teach most users to use a specific package, but also to help them acquire skills to teach themselves to use various software packages, this method can be doubly effective.

Evolution of the Technique

When I was first confronted with the task of teaching multimedia software, my little random heart skipped a major beat. …

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